"Mama.... my friend has a horse and gets to ride on her! Can I go, too?"
Horseback riding, in my mind, is kinda the same as the zoo (which I am still writing a post about! It's taking more brain power than I planned!) Is it the most horrible thing in the world? No. But does it cause suffering? Pain? Neglect?
Since my only real experience with horses was the one time I went on a group ride, fell off, and damn near got my head stomped on, I don't know about them first hand. I have a vegan friend who screams "Animal Slavery!" when passing farms or events with pony rides. I have another really close friend who has, ironically enough, works for the zoo, and she and her daughter have taken up horseback riding. It's actually been really cool to be able to ask her opinion about these things. I've often expressed my concern about using horses for entertainment, and she's just as often stressed that there is a brilliant connection between humans and horses, and cited the fact that the owners care deeply about their pet, and make sure not to abuse them in any way. A big part of this, she's said, is the danger and expense of a horse that is injured or sick.
That eased my concerns, and I started feeling pretty okay with the horse riding. Not enough so that I'd throw my kids on the back on one, but enough that I was less concerned with other people doing so. That said - I make a big distinction between horses used solely for entertainment (rodeos, races, pony rides) and those cared for by individuals as pets.
Until last night. I got a call from my friends son, who told me that his sister was in the hospital after being thrown off a horse. It was so scary! When I finally was able to speak to her on the phone, the first thing she said was "why did I let my daughter get on a horse that didn't want to be ridden??" She said that the horse was 'spooked' by the wind, and was acting uncharacteristically. But......it was time for her daughter's lesson.
Because I love her and her daughter, I only responded with concern for them. Luckily, she is okay save for a lot of bumps and bruises. Thank gosh! But it made me think. For humans, even when we have compassion and concern for animals, the majority of us will put our needs and wants before that of our pets. If we've planned a lesson, a ride and a picnic, there is very little that will derail us from these plans; most doubtfully, the unspoken will of a horse - even when his behavior indicates unwillingness.
I also remember another friend talking about being frustrated with his daughters horse; she was set to be in parade that day, and the horse was not cooperating. But, they pushed him, and forced him to march anyways. We have no way of knowing why that animal wasn't cooperating. Was he sick? Hurt? Tired? Scared? Did anyone really care, or only about the presentation of the beautiful girl on the gorgeous horse? Give me all the B.S you want about not making a horse perform (yes, at this point, pet or not, the public display is equivalent to a performance), I can't imagine anything short of bucking her off that would have convinced the family to not have her ride.
The point is, I've now made up my mind about horseback riding. I think it is almost always, inevitably, about the person and not the animal, even when people have the very best of intentions. And I'll share this with my kids, and help them understand why we chose not to ride on the backs of these magnificent animals.